Gardens have always been a big part of Jo Dawkins' life.
Growing up on a farm in Ōropi, Dawkins said their big garden was where she spent a lot of her time – and throughout her life she's always felt connected with flora. So much so, she made a career out of it and has dedicated countless hours to ensuring others are able to get as much joy from it as she has.
Today, all her efforts have been acknowledged, being made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to horticulture.
"You don't expect this sort of thing. I think it's an honour, it's certainly an honour to be recognised," Dawkins said.
Working as a florist in her sister's Devonport Rd shop for about 10 years sparked the beginning of a long and impressive career, which included co-founding Te Puna Quarry Park in 1995.
The park was opened to the public in 1997 after being transformed from an old quarry into a major horticulture and floriculture tourism destination in the Western Bay of Plenty.
"It's just an amazing place and the rewards are to see people being happy," she said.
The Tauranga born and bred woman, who lived in Quarry Rd at the time of getting the park under way, has been on the park's committee for the past 25 years, including as president from 2001 to 2004. She is still hands-on today, volunteering three days a week and contributing to weeding, planting and other general maintenance tasks.
"I love getting out and working and being with people and doing something other people can enjoy. It's a delight to be up there in the Quarry, it's a magical place for kids," she said.
"It's being in a group of like-minded people."
Dawkins' passion for horticulture is evident, also holding national and international roles with the International Plant Propagators Society (IPPS).
She first joined the New Zealand branch of the society in 1980, holding a range of administrative and governance roles before becoming the New Zealand IPPS president in 1992.
Within two years she had become New Zealand's international director of IPPS and the international president of the society in 1994. Dawkins remained involved with the society until 2002.
Dawkins said she was shocked when she received an email alerting her to her recognition just before the Covid-19 lockdown but was looking forward to being able to celebrate the milestone with family today. However, she said she's had to tell them she's hosting a small Queen's Birthday get-together so the surprise isn't revealed.